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The story of Isra and Mi’raj tells why Muslims pray five times a day

Prayer is central to Islamic belief, which is rooted in discipline and perseverance for spiritual well-being. As part of this discipline, Muslims pray five times a day, a practice known as salat.

The tradition of praying five times a day arose from an incident documented in the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

Verse one, chapter 17 of the Quran, tells of a miraculous journey made by the Prophet Muhammad, who traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem and then to heaven in one night. The journey from Mecca to Jerusalem is called Isra, meaning to travel at night, and the journey from Jerusalem to heaven is called Mi’raj, meaning to ascend. 

The Islamic calendar marks the 27th day of the seventh month as Isra and Mi’raj Night, also known as Al Isra’ wal Miraj. This year, Isra and Mi’raj Night falls on March 11.

“This journey is hard to believe for people, but Allah is free of any of these reasonings,” says Hafiz Ahmed Rabbani, director of Quranic Studies at Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills. “Allah can do anything — he is not limited in any way.”

Buraq

This illuminated manuscript from 16th-century Ottoman ruler Murad III’s commissioned copy of “Siyer-i Nebi,” the Turkish epic about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (dated 1594-1595), shows his journey upon the Buraq, a fantastical animal that conveyed him to Mecca and to heaven in one night. Image source: New York Public Library digital collection

Guided by the angel Gabriel, Prophet Muhammad is said to have traveled to Jerusalem on the back of the Buraq, a fantastic creature in Islamic tradition known to be a transport for certain prophets.

In Jerusalem, he was met by all of the prophets, including Adam, Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist and Jesus. Here Muhammad led all the prophets in prayer. 

Prophet Muhammad then journeyed with the angel Gabriel though the seven levels of heaven, meeting a different prophet at each level — Adam, John the Baptist, Jesus, Joseph, Idris, Aaron, Moses and lastly Abraham.

“Then he went to meet Allah where he received the gift of salat,” says Rabbani. “Allah tells prophet Muhammad to pray 50 times daily. When Prophet Muhammad descends back to Earth he meets Moses and is told to go back to Allah asking for a reduction in the number of daily prayers.”

He then goes back and forth between Moses and Allah nine times, until the required number of daily prayers is reduced to five. It is because of this that those of Islamic faith keep the daily custom of praying five times a day while facing Mecca.

Buraq sculpture

This sculpture of Mindanaon Muslims in the Philippines portrays the fantstical creature Buraq, a mythical beast of Islamic tradition that according to the Quran conveyed Prophet Muhammad to Mecca and to Heaven, where he met with other prophets including Moses and Jesus. Image Public Domain

The vague description of the Buraq captured the imagination of artists throughout the centuries. Some say it is a being whose body is composed of various other creatures. Some portray it as winged, but all depict the Buraq as having a beautiful woman’s face.

The Fabulous Creature Buraq

“The Fabulous Creature Buraq” Date: ca. 1660–80, Attributed to India, Deccan, probably Golconda, Medium: Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Buraq is the beast on which Muhammad is said to have made his “night journey,” here depicted, without a rider, as a fantastic creature with the face of a beautiful woman and a body composed of many small animals, fish, and birds — a convention generally popular in the eastern Islamic world. Image courtesy http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/453334

Customs regarding Isra and Mi’raj Night vary. For some, the journey is retold and there may be special prayers. Some Muslim countries observe the day by illuminating cities all night with electric lights and candles. But as far as the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit is concerned, “people come and pray but we don’t have any special program,” Rabbani says.

“It’s a big day and journey, but we don’t have any celebration,” he says. “Prophet Muhammad was told to pray five times daily. That is still a practice we do.”


The story of Isra and Mi’raj tells why Muslims pray five times a day

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